Overview: I expected a blowout win for LSU Saturday night and ultimately I was correct. I have seen Mississippi State send out some solid teams against the Tigers and still leave with lopsided losses. LSU just simply has MSU’s number having won 14-straight now and 21 of the last 22.
However, what I didn’t anticipate was the way State would play through three quarters of that game. The Bulldogs went blow for blow with LSU and even led for a span during the second quarter. It was a one score game heading into the fourth quarter.
But allowing four touchdowns in the final quarter turned a tight game into yet another stinker in this series.
I think this game said a lot about where Mississippi State is as a program in year five under Dan Mullen. Mullen has made the Bulldogs a respectable opponent but they are not ready to take the next step into the upper echelon of the SEC West yet as evidenced by competing for 45 minutes of a 60 minute game.
Quarterbacks: B+ Mullen proved once again that he can manage multiple quarterbacks effectively. I thought both Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell played well and each had their moments during the game. Prescott got the start and looked even a step faster than he has in previous games. His scrambling ability led to MSU’s first score but his passing accuracy still needs some work. Russell made some big time throws. His 20-yard touchdown pass to Jameon Lewis during his first drive was a thing of beauty. Russell still hangs onto the ball far too long which led to three sacks.
Running backs: B- The Bulldogs rushed for 216 yards but only 121 of those came from LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson. Perkins had 81 yards on 10 carries (8.1 avg.) while Robinson gained 40 yards on six attempts (6.7 avg.). State was effective running the ball but since the defense could not even slow down LSU the Bulldogs had to abandon the run and start throwing almost exclusively during the fourth quarter.
Wide receivers: B- Lewis has shown flashes of being a playmaker throughout his career but Saturday night he proved he can consistently doing. “Tubby” played at a very high level and seemed to be running for a purpose each time he got his hands on the ball. De’Runnya Wilson and Joe Morrow also made some big grabs in clutch situations to continue moving the chains and in Wilson’s case, take it in for the go ahead touchdown.
Tight ends: D+ I’ve complimented Malcolm Johnson for the past three years for having the best hands on the team. But Saturday night Johnson had a major case of the drops in some crucial situations. If he would have been able to snag those passes that fell incomplete it could have affected the scoreboard for the home team. Johnson did make two catches for 19 yards and the tight ends did block pretty well during the game.
Offensive line: B+ While LSU’s defensive front may not be its most talented in recent memory, I thought the Bulldogs line did a good job opening up running lanes and providing the quarterback adequate time in the pocket. I’ve been very impressed with how Dylan Holley has fared in two starts at center. Both left tackle Blaine Clausell and right guard Ben Beckwith went down late in the game and the extent of their injuries looms large for Mississippi State moving forward.
Defensive line: A- I was highly impressed with the job the Bulldogs defensive line did Saturday night applying pressure to Zach Mettenberger and stuffing the run for the most part. True freshman Chris Jones played his best game to date and Preston Smith finally had the impact on a game that I thought he would this season. Kaleb Eulls also had his best game of the season after barely being noticeable during the first four games.
Linebackers: C- Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner have been the catalysts for the Bulldogs defense this season. But Saturday night, neither made much of an impact. Skinner and Matthew Wells each were credited with a tackle for loss. Beniquez Brown’s missed tackle on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter resulted in a 69-yard touchdown run for Jeremy Hill.
Defensive backs: F Only three of Mettenberger’s 29 pass attempts fell to the turf of Scott Field with one incompletion being picked off by Nickoe Whitley. Mettenberger carved up the State secondary all night long finding Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry wide open time after time. The few times the Bulldogs were in position to make a play, Beckham Jr. or Landry simply went up and took the football. Dee Arrington did make a huge play on the goal line to force a fumble even though the official stat sheet gave the credit to A.J. Jefferson.
Special Teams: C+ The combination of good and bad among the special teams units evens out to an average night. Lewis had 90 kickoff return yards including a 46-yarder but muffed his only punt return attempt for no gain. Devon Bell made a pair of field goals including his first from the 30-39 yard range this season but hooked a critical 42-yarder late in the third quarter in what would be the Bulldogs final scoring opportunity. Bell only had one touchback in six kickoff attempts but the coverage unit did a good job limiting returns.
Coaching: C+ As with special teams, there is some good and bad here. The offensive play-calling was solid for the most part although I thought Russell should have been used more early on in the fourth quarter once State fell behind by two scores and were in obvious passing offense the rest of the way. The two-point conversion call to start the game was just plain stupid, especially considering the previous play that wasn’t executed the way it was designed either. I did like the way Geoff Collins defense attacked the quarterback but the coverage is still far too soft and made it an easy pickings for Mettenberger and his receivers.